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COLTS NECK – In a season where team goals have taken a back seat to those of individuals and opportunities for team notoriety are extremely limited, Colts Neck still found a way to make program history on Thursday morning.

The Cougars, ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, won nine of 14 bouts, including six of the 10 contested bouts, to defeat No. 10 Wall, 44-21, and clinch the Class B North division title.

It is the first outright division title for the Cougars in program history and their second division championship on top of the tri-championship they earned in 2019.

Junior Ford Zajac earned a huge individual win at 182 pounds, junior Michael Lyristis won by fall, seniors Joe Barsky and Justin Marine delivered bonus points with major decisions and freshman Tyler Russ won a dramatic overtime bout to lead the way as Colts Neck remained undefeated (9-0) heading into the postseason.

“As much of an individual sport as this is, it’s still a team sport and we were happy to have at least one team thing to shoot for,” said Colts Neck head coach Brett Jankos. “We knew we would have the opportunity and be up there with the other teams in our division and we ended up getting the win at the end.”

“It’s amazing,” Zajac said. “It’s great for the seniors, great for everybody.”

By the time Zajac took the mat against Wall senior Brendan Newbury the match had already been decided, but it was the result in the final bout of the meet that will reverberate well into April. Newbury, a returning state qualifier, and Zajac, a district runner-up last season, both entered the matchup undefeated (although Newbury had just recently made his season debut). Newbury was ranked No. 2 in the Shore and Zajac No. 3 in the SSN individual rankings.

The bout started with a flurry and remained that way until the end. Newbury began with a takedown, Zajac countered with a reversal and two near-fall points and Newbury answered with a reversal. An escape by Zajac made it 5-4 in his favor after a wild first period. The scoring slowed in the second period but the pace did not. Newbury scored a reversal to take a 6-5 lead but Zajac was able to escape to tie the bout at six entering the third period.

Zajac escaped to begin the third period but Newbury quickly got in on a high-crotch and transitioned to a double-leg attempt. Zajac, however, was able to roll through and come out on top for the takedown and a 9-6 lead. He immediately locked in an armbar and ran a half-nelson, turning Newbury for the fall at the 4:42 mark to finish off the team victory with an individual exclamation point.

“I was nervous, I will say that,” Zajac said of the matchup vs. Newbury. “I’m always looking for the pin and it can come from anywhere.”

“He can finish, he can definitely finish,” Jankos said. “That’s two high-quality kids at 182 and Ford, he’s grown into the weight class (He was 132 as a freshman and 152 as a sophomore). He’s still a light 182 but when you get the lightweights who turn into upperweights but still wrestle like a lightweight, it’s almost an advantage. They’re hard to keep up with. And with Ford’s ability on top, he’s a dangerous wrestler.”

Zajac is now 9-0 with six wins by fall in his seven contested bouts. The other is a 7-1 win over Long Branch’s Jack Friedman, a returning region medalist.

Another significant victory came from Russ at 120 pounds where he outlasted Wall senior Jack Kinsella, 3-2 in double overtime. Russ was a monster from the top position, unofficially piling up over four minutes of riding time.

Kinsella led 2-0 after the first period but Russ equaled the score with a reversal in the second period. He rode Kinsella for the rest of the period and then again for the entirety of the third period to send the bout to overtime. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Russ escaped in the first 30-second tiebreaker and then rode out Kinsella in the next 30-second period to win 3-2.

“He is a great rider on top,” Jankos said. “He’s still working on connecting a couple dots but he is a physical kid. He’s a standout in our ROTC PT (physical training), he’s the best freshman they’ve ever had in that program when it comes to PT, so he’s a strong kid, he’s in great shape and he works hard. He’s just trying to connect the dots and chain wrestle a little more. It was a nice win for him over a seasoned guy.”

After Wall forfeited the first three weights at 195, 220 and 285 because it did not have anyone weighed in at those weights, Colts Neck forfeited at 106 to make it 18-6 through four bouts. At 113, Lyristis needed just 27 seconds to win by fall over Colin Roarty and extend the Cougars’ lead to 24-6. After the win by Russ at 120, Wall won three in a row as Nick Vetrano won by 12-3 major decision over DJ Willis at 126, Mike Bruno topped Eli Novoselov, 9-5, at 132, and Dominick Interrante nipped Joe Layton, 5-4, at 138.

There were fireworks at 145 and nearly a grand finale when Colts Neck senior Logan Waller survived a scare and held on for a 12-10 decision over Wall freshman Donovan DiStefano.

Waller, a two-time district champ, two-time state qualifier and the 2020 Shore Conference Tournament champion at 138 pounds, built an 8-3 lead after the first period with four takedowns, but DiStefano battled back with a takedown in the second period. Waller was awarded a reversal late in the second period to give him an 11-5 lead heading to the third, a call that Wall’s coaches were up in arms about. He needed the entire cushion as DiStefano came on hard and took him down twice in the third period, nearly turning him to his back, as well.

It was one of those instances where the underdog lost and walked off the mat feeling more like the winner and the favorite won but was still disappointed. Still, you’d rather learn a lesson in victory rather than defeat.

“That kid was impressive, he was really good. It’s nice to have a test like that,” Jankos said. “They let you know where you stand and what you have to work on. I think Logan learned something and we learned a couple things before we get into the individual tournament. He’s a state-caliber kid and we expect great things from him. He holds the bar very high for himself and I’m glad we got a match like that right now. When you go out and get a forfeit or pin somebody all the time you don’t get that test, and the one thing you want to be at individual time is tested.”

Marine and Barsky followed with major decisions at 152 and 170 sandwiched around Wall senior Nicolas Zamaloff winning by technical fall at 160 pounds. That set up the marquee match between Zajac and Newbury, which did not disappoint.

Next up for Colts Neck is the Shore Conference postseason pod tournament. The Cougars are the No. 3 seed in Pod 1 and will face Middletown South on Monday with the winner to face Jackson Memorial on Wednesday. Many teams opted out of the pods to focus on the individual postseason and others who entered will hold out many of their starters who are state-tournament-caliber wrestlers. Colts Neck may certainly do the same. Either way, the push to the podium is about to begin.

“We’re just trying to stay away from COVID, work our butts off and do what we have to do,” Barsky said. “We want to do whatever we can to stay wrestling. When the postseason comes you want to be in prime shape and wrestle your best to get on that podium. That’s the mission.”


Box Score

No. 8 Colts Neck 44, No. 10 Wall 21

Jake Lupo (Colts Neck) over Unknown (For.)
No. 4 Raymond Santiago (Colts Neck) over Unknown (For.)
No. 8 Matthew Jannucci (Colts Neck) over Unknown (For.)
Matt Krokosz (Wall) over Unknown (For.)
No. 8 Michael Lyristis (Colts Neck) over Colin Roarty (Wall) (Fall 0:17)
Tyler Russ (Colts Neck) over Jack Kinsella (Wall) (TB-1 3-2)
Nicholas Vetrano (Wall) over Donald Willis (Colts Neck) (MD 12-2)
No. 7 Mike Bruno (Wall) over Eli Novoselov (Colts Neck) (Dec 9-5)
Dominick Interrante (Wall) over Joe Layton (Colts Neck) (Dec 5-4)
No. 2 Logan Waller (Colts Neck) over No. 8 Donovan DiStefano (Wall) (Dec 12-10)
No. 10 Justin Marine (Colts Neck) over Daniel Hyde (Wall) (MD 13-4)
No. 6 Nicolas Zamaloff (Wall) over Ben Rosen (Colts Neck) (TF 18-3 5:05)
No. 4 Joseph Barsky (Colts Neck) over Kelan Giaimo (Wall) (MD 9-0)
No. 3 Bradford Zajac (Colts Neck) over No. 2 Brendan Newbury (Wall) (Fall 4:42)




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